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Iraq

Iraq (Arabic: ?????? Al-Ir?q) is a country in the Middle East. It lies at the north end of the Persian Gulf and has a small (58km) coastline in the southeast of the country. It is surrounded by Iran to the east, Kuwait to the south, Saudi Arabia to the southwest, Jordan to the west, Syria to the northwest, and Turkey to the north.

Regions

Cities

  • Baghdad (?????)
  • Arbil (?????)
  • Ar Rutba (??????)
  • Basra (???????)
  • Dahuk (????)
  • Fallujah (????????)
  • Karbala (??????)
  • Kirkuk (?????)
  • Mosul (????)
  • Sulaimaniyah (???????)

Other destinations

  • Ashur — former capital of the Assyrian Empire and UNESCO World Heritage site, this is one of the country's few great archaeological sites that has benefited from the latest invasion—the Hussein government planned to create a dam nearby that would have flooded and utterly destroyed the site.
  • Babylon (????) — damaged by inept reconstruction, looting, and military negligence, the ruins of ancient Babylon are still some of the most impressive in the Cradle of Civilization.
  • Ctesiphon — the ancient capital of the Parthian and Sassanid Empires left us with magnificent, towering ruins, most notably of the magnificent Arch of Ctesiphon; just across the Tigris is the archaeological site of the ancient Hellenistic city of Seleucia.
  • Hatra — once a UNESCO World Heritage site, this formerly well-preserved Parthian city off in the desert contained quite possibly Iraq's most magnificent ruins, which were severely damaged or destroyed by Da'esh extremists in 2015.
  • Nineveh (?????) — a 3,000 year old city and one time capital of Assyria, whose partially reconstructed ruins and archaeological site lies across the Tigris from Mosul.
  • Ur (???) — the ruins of the ancient Sumerian city, best known for its giant step pyramid, the Great Ziggurat of Ur.

Understand

History

See also: Ancient Mesopotamia

Iraq is the birthplace of many of the Earth's oldest civilizations, including the Sumerians, Akkadians, Assyrians and Babylonians. A part of the Persian Empire from the 6th century BCE, the Hellenic civilisation from the 4th century BCE, the the Caliphates between the 7th and 13th centuries and the Ottoman Empire from 1534, the Treaty of Sèvres brought the area under British control in 1918. Iraq gained independence in 1932. On 14 July 1958, the long-time Hashamite monarchy was overthrown in a coup led by Abdul Kassem that paved way to radical political reforms, including the legalisation of political parties such as the Ba'ath and the Communist Party, both key players in the coup (also called the 14 July Revolution). Following the Revolution, the Soviet Union gradually became its main arms and commercial supplier.

In February 1963, Kassem was overthrown and killed in a second coup that brought the Ba'ath Party into power. Internal divisions would follow for the next five years, until another coup on 17 July 1968 led by Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr (with Communist support) stabilised the party. Relations between the Communists and the Ba'athists ranged from mutual cooperation to violent mistrust, culminating in the purge of Communists from the army and the government by 1978, causing a temporary rift with the Soviet Union. On 16 July 1979, Bakr resigned and was succeeded by right-hand man Saddam Hussein, who carefully purged his enemies and became a dictator almost overnight.

The next twenty-five years took a grinding toll on the country. A long war with neighbouring Iran in the 1980s cost hundreds of thousands of lives and billions of dollars. The invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and subsequent Gulf War caused further casualties, followed by civil war inside the country and a decade of international sanctions.

Iraq was invaded in 2003 by a US/UK-led coalition of forces, who removed Saddam Hussein from power, destroyed most of the country's infrastructure in bombings and missile strikes, and triggered intercommunal violence that resulted in millions of Iraqis fleeing into exile and many more internally displaced within the country. As of 2012, no foreign troops remained in Iraq; however, the United States has sent advisors back into Iraq in 2014 at the request of the Iraqi government, and others are based in Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan. This is in connection with the fight against the "Islamic State" organization, which earlier in 2014 quickly captured large areas of Iraq and Syria primarily inhabited by Sunni Arabs, and proceeded to conduct wholesale murders of non-Sunni boys and men and enslavements of non-Sunni women and girls who fell under their power. An American-led coalition has been bombing targets of the organization, also known as "ISIL" for "Islamic State in the Levant", in support of Kurdish and Iraqi armed forces fighting them.

Geography

Iraq mainly consists of desert, but near the two major rivers (Euphrates and Tigris) are fertile alluvial plains, as the rivers carry about 60,000,000m³ (78,477,037 cu yd) of silt annually to the delta. The north of the country is mostly composed of mountains; the highest point being at 3,611m (11,847 ft) point, unnamed on the map opposite, but known locally as Cheekah Dar (black tent). Iraq has a small coastline measuring 58km (36 mi) along the Persian Gulf.

Climate

Most of Iraq has a hot arid climate. Summer temperatures average above 40°C (104°F) for most of the country and frequently exceed 48°C(118°F). Winter temperatures infrequently exceed 21°C (70°F) with maximums roughly 15 to 16°C (59 to 61°F) and night-time lows occasionally below freezing. Typically precipitation is low, most places receive less than 250mm (10 in) annually, with maximum rainfall during the months of November to April. Rainfall during the summer is extremely rare except in the very north of the country.

People

Before the large-scale murders by the "Islamic State" organization and flight from Iraq of members of non-Muslim minorities (especially Yazidis and Christians), Arabs who are 65% Shia and 35% Sunni Muslim comprised 75%-80% of the major population of Iraq. 15% of Iraq's population was comprised of Kurds (including Yazidis and Shabaks), Turkmen and Assyrians. Over around 20,000 Marsh Arabs live in southern Iraq. Indigenous Neo Aramaic speaking Assyrians, most of whom are adherents of the Chaldean Catholic Church, Assyrian Church of the East, Assyrian Pentecostal Church and Syriac Orthodox Church accounted for 10% of the Christian population. It is hard to be sure what current figures would be.

Holidays

  • New Year's Day (January 1)
  • Armed Forces Day (January 6)
  • Nowruz (March 21)
  • Baghdad Liberation Day (April 9)
  • Ramadan (various)-Islamic religious observances
  • Republic Day (July 14)
  • Ashura (variable) Islamic religious observance
  • Independence Day (October 3)
  • Christmas (December 25)

Get in

All visitors to Iraq require a visa for entry. Contract and military personnel working for the U.S. Department of Defense are exempt from this visa policy, as long as they present a valid Common Access Card (CAC card) issued by the Department of Defense. This only holds true if you are flying into the military side of BIAP by Gryphon Air or on a military flight. If you fly into Baghdad International without an entry or working visa you will be deported.

For those entering the country without a visa, one can be purchased at most border crossings for USD80. Total crossing time is around 1 hour for individuals. If you intend to acquire a visa at your port of entry, be prepared for long waits, and bring plenty of documentation about who you are and what your business in Iraq is. Letters on company or government letterhead are preferred.

Obtaining a travel visa to Iraq is complicated and time consuming. You can obtain an application at the local Embassy of Iraq [1] . However, all applications are vetted in Baghdad. Even if you do obtain a visa, you may still be refused entry into Iraq once you arrive. Visas can be acquired in advance at the Iraqi embassies in London, Paris, and Washington, D.C.

By plane

Baghdad International Airport (BIAP) (IATA: BGW) is about 16km from the centre of Baghdad. After some damage during the wars, the airport is in full operation and growing due to the recovery of Iraq.

The national airline is Iraqi Airways that operates a fleet of 15 jets. Their main activity are domestic flights but Iraqi Airways also offers flights to London and Stockholm as well as to some airports in the Middle East and South Asia.

The best way from Europe to Baghdad is either with Austrian or Turkish Airlines. Austrian Airlines provides four flights per week from Vienna (IATA: VIE) to BIAP. Turkish Airlines flies daily from Istanbul (IATA: IST) to BIAP.

Within the Middle East, Royal Jordanian Airlines operates two daily roundtrip flights from Amman(IATA: AMM). Emirates and the low-cost carrier flydubai from Dubai arrive on a daily basis in Baghdad.

The best connected and safest airport is the Erbil International Airport [2]. Flights into Iraqi Kurdistan are offered by most European and Middle East carriers like Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines, Royal Jordanian and Etihad. Iraqi Kurdistan has seen enormous growth and investment since 2003 due to being safer than the rest of Iraq and is the business hub for the region.

Diplomats, private military contractors, and intelligence agents can use Gryphon Airlines. Gryphon offers flights between the military side of BIAP and Kuwait City.

Additional Services to the city of Van, Turkey are offered by Turkish airlines from most western cities via Istanbul, from here a taxi will take you to the border for the equivalent of USD35-200 depending on your bargaining skills (Turkish drivers will only usually accept Lira, euros or pounds sterling)

For those working for Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in Iraq, there are two charter airlines operating into BIAP. Skylink and AirServ operate frequent flights. Travel on either of these services requires sponsorship by your NGO to get you onto an approved traveller list maintained by each. Schedules and services can be irregular, and change frequently.

The airport is under control of the Iraqi government. Take-offs and landings at BIAP are controlled by the Iraqi Ministry of Transportation. Several critical pieces of Air Traffic Control gear have not been turned on, and the result of this is that BIAP can only accommodate Visual Flight Rule (VFR) landings, not instrument landings. Because of this, the frequent sandstorms that hit the area can obscure visibility and cause flights to be turned away. It is not unusual for commercial flights to make it all the way to BIAP, and then turn around and return to their origin due to limited visibility on the runway. To protect against the extreme danger of ground-based attacks, incoming civilian flights descend from cruising altitudes in a tight spiral within protected BIAP airspace.

When departing at BIAP, be prepared for long, disorderly, and excessively slow lines wherever you go. If you are not working in Iraq on a government contract, your entrance to the airport grounds about three or four miles from the airport terminal will require you and your vehicle to wait in line to be searched. These security checkpoints can take from two to three hours to process through. The best strategy is to find accommodations somewhere within the BIAP area of control on the day prior to your flight so that you aren't subjected to the long wait and end up missing your flight.

All airlines operating services at BIAP have a 100% bag matching policy. All bags, whether carry-ons or checked luggage, are lined up on the tarmac next to the aircraft. Each individual passenger must physically touch and claim their bags before a baggage handler and security personnel will match it and then load it into the hold. Any bags left on the tarmac after the boarding process is complete are not loaded and are taken away from the terminal area to a secure facility for disposal.

By train

After twenty years of non-service, a once-weekly passenger train had been put in service between Gaziantep in southeastern Turkey and Mosul, crossing a short strip of Syrian territory. It departed 21:00 every Thursday from Gaziantep and arrived in Mosul 14:00 next day, costing €25 pp. This was the only way of arriving in Iraq by rail. Due to a request by Iraqi Railways, Gaziantep–Mosul service has been suspended until further notice.

By car

Cars can be the most dangerous method of travel into the country. On reaching the border it is advisable to leave your taxi/rental car, for an armoured 4x4, these are available for hire, with an armed guard if required, from the British security company GENRIC for GBP300 (USD460) approx.

From Turkey

Driving in from Turkey is the best method of entry into the Northern part of the country. This area of the country is relatively safe, at least compared to the rest of the country. Border police and locals will advise you which cities are safe to travel in (Zakho, Dohuk, Erbil, As-Sulaymaniyah etc.), and will warn you away from specific cities (such as Mosul or Baghdad).

From Diyarbakir, Turkey you will drive south east to Zakho, Iraq. It is possible to take a previously arranged taxi, the average cost of this taxi ride is USD150 and most of the drivers only speak Kurdish or Arabic. You will often switch taxis in Silopi about five minutes from the Iraqi border, or you will change cars about 70km from the border and continue on from there. The taxi driver will then take care of all your paperwork at the border. This involves your driver running from building to building getting paperwork stamped and approved. You must have a photocopy of your passport for the Turkish section of the border, which they require that you leave with them (the photocopy, not your passport).

A much less expensive option is to take a bus from Diyarbakir directly to Silopi. This won't cost more than about TRY20. From the Silopi otogar (bus station), it's easy to get a taxi to Zakho. A good taxi driver can handle all of the photocopying and paperwork for the Turkish side.

At this point you will finish driving across the border crossing into Iraq. Your taxi driver will then take you to the Iraqi immigration and customs section. All persons and vehicles entering Iraq must be searched for contraband by the customs officers, and their vehicles are registered and pay some sort of stamp tax, however, occasionally, searches are not conducted. Without this stamp tax, it is illegal for a non-Iraqi vehicle to purchase gas at any of the state-run gas stations all over the country. After paying any import duties to customs and receiving the vehicle stamp, the immigration officers will check your passport and stamp it if you have a visa. Additionally, at some land border crossings, your fingerprint and/or photo will be taken. As of July 2008, there was no visa fee at this border crossing.

At this point, you will be at the border taxi stand, a few kilometres outside of the city of Zakho, and may need to hire another taxi to get to Zakho's city centre (IQD5,000-10,000). For the taxi ride from the Turkish city where you changed cars to Zakho, it's about USD40. This is a safe place to meet your friends or to charter a taxi into another part of the country. Enjoy some tea while waiting.

From Jordan

For land crossings from Jordan, be prepared for a long ride. The trip through the eastern Jordanian desert is much like a moonscape. The journey from Amman to Baghdad can take anywhere from 10-15 hours. You will depart Amman between 05:00 and 10:00, and arrive at the border crossing about four hours later. The border crossing can take anywhere from an hour and a half (on a very good day) to more than five or six hours. Entering Iraq usually takes about half as much time as leaving Iraq. The Jordanian immigration and customs officers are very finicky about whom they will let in, and they will often shut their side of the border and not allow anyone to enter for unspecified reasons.

The trip from the border to Baghdad is very dangerous. The route is full of highway bandits and gangs of thieves that prey upon unprotected travellers. Travelling this route without adequate communications gear or weapons of any kind is strongly discouraged. Do not make any stops along this route, if traffic becomes stalled for any reason on the highway (other than a possible IED), then it is best to make circles until traffic flows again. Vehicles, especially those that may be occupied by westerners, are subject to attack at any time. Carry extra fuel and plenty of food.

From Kuwait

Travelling from the Kuwaiti border is just as difficult as crossing from Jordan. The Kuwaiti crossing is complicated even more by the fact that Kuwaiti immigration and customs officers are even more strict than the Jordanians and anything at all can cause them to arbitrarily block your entry or exit. Sneaking into a military convoy is not advised as your vehicle might be mistaken for a suicide attacker by the turret gunners in the convoy.

Reliable but inconspicuous transportation is a must in Iraq. It is probably best to buy a vehicle that blends in with the other cars on the road. Toyota, Hyundai and Kia, along with less familiar Eastern European and Asian brands are common. BMWs and Mercedes are also seen in Iraq but are less common, especially nice ones, which usually have the steering wheel on the right side.

By bus

It is possible to enter Iraq from Jordan by taking a bus from Amman. Other countries may have bus service to Iraq. Third party nationals can also gain entry into Iraq for work purposes; these buses usually depart from Kuwait.

Get around

  • In Kurdistan, public transport is rare although regular buses do link Zakho and Dohuk and cost about USD2. From Dohuk, shared taxis leave all day for Erbil and other cities. The road from Dohuk to Arbil goes south near Mosul, but does not leave Kurdish territory and is thus safe, although perhaps too close for comfort.
  • Shared taxis might be the safest way to travel in Iraqi Kurdistan, as the drivers are not interested in leaving the province either.

By car

Driving at night may be a safer alternative to daytime driving, but a few rules to follow:

  • Avoid city centres. Although most Iraqis are asleep by midnight, the few that are awake are almost certainly up to no good.
  • Watch for the military. If you are out late at night and effectively trying to blend in with the locals, you could be mistaken for a hostile/troublemaker. At checkpoints, you will also be treated as a suspect, and until they decide you are not a target, you must conduct yourself carefully.
  • If you do encounter the military, ensure your lights are on, turn on your hazards/flashers, slow or pull over to the side of the road and follow any and all instructions given. If a stop sign, green laser, or any other signal is directed at you or in your general direction it is advisable to follow it, better to err on the side of caution than get shot at.
  • For those travelling to Iraq and make friends along the way, be extremely cautious if they offer you a ride. When accepting the offer, make sure they are not leaving Iraqi Kurdistan province.

Talk

Arabic is the national language of Iraq, but English is so commonly spoken there that most travellers will get by in the various shops, markets and cafes. The downside is that speaking English will immediately identify you as an outsider. This is dangerous because of the strong underground network of Iraqis who inform attackers of possible target opportunities.

Kurdish is spoken in the Kurdistan region, in one of two varieties: Kurmanji and Sorani. Kurmanji is spoken in and around Dohuk while Sorani is spoken in and around Arbil (Hewlar) and Sulaymaniyah. These two varieties are mutually unintelligible. However, Arabic is also widely spoken, and the number of speakers of English is on the rise.

See

The past 40 years of disastrous government and devastating wars has taken its toll on Iraq's travel industry. After the fall of the Saddam Hussein government, which was virulently hostile to the Shia religion, religious pilgrims, mostly from the Middle East, Iran, and Central Asia, have returned in large numbers to the holy sites of southern Iraq, especially to the spiritual home of Shia Islam in Karbala. Religious pilgrimage remains quite unsafe, but there is a greater degree of safety in numbers, and in being familiar with the Arab region. And of course, pilgrimage is a more urgent reason for travel than sightseeing!

One can only hope that this great and ancient region soon sees increased security and stability, for it makes a fascinating travel destination for anyone interested in history, be it in ancient history 4,000 years old, medieval Islamic and later Ottoman history, or the modern history of the early 21st century. The aforementioned conflicts and misgovernment have not been kind to Iraq's ruins, especially in terms of the massive rebuilding done on ancient Babylon by the Hussein government and later negligence by foreign military presence. But the pull of such ancient cities as the Babylonian capital Babylon; the ancient city of Ur, of mankind's first great civilizations, Sumeria; major Parthian cities at magnificent Hatra and the capital Ctesiphon; and the Assyrian capital of Ashur, remains great enough to overlook the damage done.

The holiest sites of Shia Islam outside of Saudi Arabia are in Iraq's fertile heartland of Lower Mesopotamia. The Shia-Sunni split in Islam occurred over a dispute in the mid-seventh century C.E. as to the true successor of the Prophet Muhammad, with the Shiites supporting Ali ibn Abi Talib, who would become the first Imam, and whose Caliphate capital was located in the medieval city of Kufa. Ali's tomb is found in present day Najaf at the Imam Ali Mosque, one of Shia Islam's most holy sites. The third Imam, grandson of the Prophet, Husayn ibn Ali, is widely revered as one of Shia Islam's greatest martyrs, and the two grand mosques of Karbala, Al Abbas Mosque and Imam Husayn Shrine (which stands on his grave) are the sites of the Shiites' most important pilgrimage, to observe the Ashura, the day of mourning for Imam Husayn. Samarra is home to another one of the most important Shia mosques, Al-Askari Mosque, which serves as the tomb of Imams 'Ali al-Hadi and Hassan al-'Askari. Tragically, this mosque is badly damaged, suffering explosions in sectarian violence in 2006, destroying the dome, minarets, and clock tower. Lastly, Al-Kadhimiya Mosque in Kadhimiya is revered, as it is the burial place of the seventh and ninth Imams, Musa al-Kadhim and Muhammad at-Taqi. Also buried within this mosque are the famous historical scholars, Shaykh Mufid and Shaykh Nasir ad-Din Tusi. Iraq is also home to significant holy sites of Sunni Islam, especially Baghdad's Abu Hanifa Mosque, built around the tomb of Abu Hanifah an-Nu'man, the founder of the ?anaf? school of Islamic religious jurisprudence.

In terms of modern attractions, most are the big modernist sculptures and palaces of the Saddam Hussein government, located primarily in Baghdad (or on top of some of the world's most important heritage sites...). Given the warfare, external and internal, and government atrocities committed against its own people over the past 40 years, one can only expect that the future will see widespread construction of memorials to those who suffered. But such developments may have to wait until the nation's turbulent present settles down. In the meantime, it is possible (albeit often dangerous) to visit the cities and sites of battles that have become household names throughout the world in the most recent conflict.

Do

Buy

Money

Iraqi currency is the Iraqi dinar, denoted by the symbol "?.?" (ISO code: IQD). Banknotes are issued in 1,000, 5,000, 10,000, 25,000, 50,000 dinars denominations. Coins, and banknotes in 250 and 500-dinar denominations are rarely used.

While the dinar is the official currency, you will also be able to spend euros (€) and US dollars (USD) in many places. Most people do not like to make change for large banknotes. Any defects in the bills (creases, ink stamps from banks, tears, etc.) will raise suspicion that you are a counterfeiter. Don't bring old bills with you, either. Carry mostly small bills in the form of Iraqi dinars for daily spending cash.

Since the introduction of the new Iraqi dinar, its widespread acceptance and confidence has reduced the prominence of the US dollar, and many shopkeepers are now refusing to accept them. However, most people will still pay large hotel bills or rent payments using US dollars or euro due to the sheer volume of notes required to pay with dinars. The conversion rate fluctuates from day to day and from town to town. Inflation used to be relative high (65% a year since 2003) but it is now much lower than before (11% in 2008).

Learn the security features of the new dinar and US dollar notes; the former Iraqi government was known to be making passable USD20, USD10, and USD5 bills, and these counterfeiters are apparently still in business.

Eat

See also: Middle Eastern cuisine
  • monir (mardini), 26023, ? 3134432776NOCC. hummus
  • Masgouf- Considered as the national dish of Iraq. It is an open cut freshwater fish roasted for hours after being marinated with olive oil, salt, curcuma and tamarind while keeping the skin on. Traditional garnishes for the masgouf include lime, chopped onions and tomatoes, and flatbread.
  • Tepsi Baytinijan Also very popular dish in Iraq. A baked casserole typically consisting of meatballs, aubergine, tomatoes, garlic, onions, and potatoes.

Drink

Alcohol is legal in Iraq and street vendors can usually get alcohol if you really need it, but again this is just asking to be identified as an outsider. Furthermore, while alcohol is legal many insurgent groups in Iraq have targeted alcohol vendors and users.

Sleep

Sleep in the hot summer months can be difficult. Sleeping outside and near flowing water is the most comfortable setting one can find outside of air conditioning.

In Iraqi Kurdistan, there are plenty of hotels and although they are hard to find in any travel guide, anyone on the street will direct you to a nearby place. There's no shortage in Zakho, Dohuk or Arbil. Rates run about USD15-25 per night for a single room with bathroom.

Work

Work in Iraq pays very well. Typical foreign contractors can make up to USD100k per year for security and administrative work.

Stay safe

After the war was declared over on December 2011, the political situation is very unstable. In May 2013, a series of deadly bombings and shootings happened. In December 2013, clashes in Anbar occurred. In January 2014, the control of Fallujah is divided between the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Sunni anti-government tribal militias.

Iraq is beset with numerous problems that make travelling risky and difficult. The security situation is perilous in just about any area of the country, and continues to deteriorate under continuing terrorist attacks. Resistance to continuing military occupation, U.S. and UK forces, and Iraqi military, police or anyone associated with the Iraqi government, as well as increasing factional and sectarian conflict make street warfare, bombings, and other acts of armed violence daily occurrences.

The central third of the country is the most volatile; the southern ports are less dangerous, but only relatively so. However, northern Iraq, or Kurdistan is safe and has suffered from very little violence since 2003. Major cities, including Baghdad, are fertile grounds for political upheavals, kidnappings, and other underground activity, so tread lightly. The Kurdish peshmerga (military) is over 100,000 strong and every road, town, city and even village has checkpoints going in and out. All non-Kurds are searched thoroughly and occasionally followed by the internal secret police. However fear not, this is why there is almost no chance of terrorism in the North. The police are friendly and everyone is happy to meet foreigners, especially Americans.

Travelling alone makes you an easy kidnapping target, and is best avoided – if possible travel with a translator/guard. There are comprehensive private and state security services available for your personal protection - you are strongly advised to use the available options for your own safety. If employed in Iraq, consult your employer on how to handle your personal safety. Independent contractors will usually have security provided by their clients, if no security is provided you should seriously consider not travelling to Iraq, if you must go you should hire armed security and get proper training in appropriate protective gear, survival, and weapons.

Stay healthy

It is not safe for short term visitors to drink the water anywhere in Iraq. It is best to always drink bottled water, preferably made by a Western or Jordanian company. It will usually be sold at vendors and large stores, and will be easy to find. Most Iraqi water companies pump their water directly from the Tigris or Euphrates rivers, treat it with ozone, and then filter it into bottles. The taste is often not very good, and those with sensitive systems should not drink it. Many street vendors will offer drinks such as water with a lemon twist, which should be presumed unsafe for foreign visitors.

Those with experience in Iraq should use their discretion and past experience when purchasing drinks.

Drinking the local tea (chai) can be safe for some people since it is brought to a boil before serving, but when in doubt, insist that bottled water be used. Many kinds of water-borne disease, pollution, and infectious agents are not affected by boiling of water, and are still present in the water after boiling.

As a walk past an Iraqi butcher shop will demonstrate, food preparation standards are not the same as in Western countries, and consumption of local food can make a visitor ill. Try to bring your own. As tap water is generally not potable, you should especially avoid uncooked foods.

Should you find your body in the uncomfortable position of rejecting food and water due to something you shouldn't have drunk, immediately find someone who speaks Arabic and send them to a local pharmacist and request a product known locally as "InterStop" (similar to co-phenotrope/Lomotil). This works better than any well-known western brands.

Respect

Never show the soles of your feet to others. This may be considered very disrespectful by most Iraqis, unless you are in the company of friends. When in the company of friends, it's still best to excuse yourself before putting your feet up in the air with the soles of your feet in the direction of any person.

Don't spit in public or in the direction of others, even when obviously done without malice.

Connect

The Amateur Traveler talks to Anil Polat who blogs under the name foxnomad about a recent trip to Northern Iraq. Anil is out to visit every country in the world which might lead him to visit a country before some others would deem it safe. Anil did not travel to the green zone but traveled in the Northern or Kurdish region of Iraq. Anil’s trip was made all the more interesting as he is ethnically Turkish. Says Anil:

Honestly that was one of my concerns before going. I did not know how people would respond to me, if people would not like me being there. The whole idea of a Kurdistan in Northern Iraq is a very controversial topic in Turkey to say the least.And also I had some security and safety concerns just because of the location. However, people were very friendly to me and it was a much more normal experience than I was expecting.

Photo by author

Photo by author

One of the most beautiful travel experiences I’ve had was a visit to a Syrian refugee camp in Iraq. While there, I was able to help improve — even by just a small amount — the situation of those suffering one of the worst humanitarian crises in our history. The camp I went to is called Darashakran. It’s about 40km north of the Kurdish capital, Erbil, where there are several refugee camps. The majority of these camps have been operating since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War, which is now in its sixth year. More than 50,000 Syrian refugees (a mix of Sunnis and Kurds) live in this Darashakran camp and its population has increased constantly since it was set-up four years ago.

Darashakran is basically a small city. And yeah, it’s damn crazy.

Preparing for the visit

My objective of going to Darashakran was not only to find out how refugees were living but to provide them with any kind of food or supplies that might be useful to them. These refugee camps in Iraq do not receive a lot of attention. War and misery are happening all over Iraq too, so the locals have many things of their own to worry about.

When I spoke to a local Kurd, he told me that most of the help the Syrian refugees receive comes from the Kurdish Government and it’s mainly just to satisfy the primary needs: pasta, rice, or milk. So I planned to bring food, but after speaking with several locals I stopped at Erbil’s bazaar to buy two bags of 30 different toys as well.

Getting there

The only way to get to the refugee camp is by car. Shafia, who was the receptionist at the hotel I stayed at, introduced me to a friend of hers who could take me to the camp by car. The driver turned out to be a young Syrian man named Blend.

On our way to the camp, I spoke to Blend as we passed green fields, wheat plantations, and shepherds wandering them in the distance with their sheep. Ten years ago Blend moved from Syria to Iraq with his family in order to find better opportunities. This massive migration of Syrians into Iraq is actually nothing new, it’s been happening for more than a decade — all because of the dictatorial regime led by Bashar Al-Assad.

Entering Darashakran

Photo by author

Photo by author

Darashakran was huge — much bigger than I could have ever expected. It was fully militarized by local peshmergas (Kurdish soldiers) who were preserving the Syrians’ safety. There was a checkpoint at the camp entrance but, thanks to Blend, I was able to pass with my supplies without any trouble. I had food and toys, I was more than welcome at the camp.

Once inside, Blend pulled the car over and I went across the street to offer a toy to a Syrian girl who was passing by. She took it shyly and went quickly to her mother. Soon a few other children approached and timidly picked up a toy. At first, everything went smoothly but within a few moments, I was swarmed by a massive crowd of people asking desperately for a toy. They asked politely, but eventually, the toys were grabbed from my hands. I ran out of everything I had brought in less than a minute and people were still asking me for more.

Photo by author

Photo by author

I wished I had brought more for them, but I knew it would have been the same. Later, a couple of mothers came up to me and showed their gratitude with very honest smiles. That moment was the most beautiful of my life. They invited me for a meal but I refused, I felt they couldn’t spare it. I accepted some tea instead.

Life in the camp

Darashakran is like a small city not just in its size, but in its culture as well. Refugees have built shops, a school, and a mosque. Families no longer live in tents but have built solid houses instead with materials provided by the Kurdish government.

Photo by author

Photo by author

I think it’s easy to assume that Syrians have just started a new life for themselves at these camps, but the conditions were just as bad as I imagined. The streets were dusty and dirty, and there was no easy way for people to bathe. There was water supply and medical services provided by Unicef Iraq, but it was clear that this wasn’t enough.

Photo by author

Photo by author

There were two things that really surprised me about my visit to Darashakran. The first was that children made up the largest population in the camp, they were everywhere. The second was that Darashakran was filled with men dressed in suits. Many Syrian refugees have high levels of education and were once part of Syria’s middle class. I met engineers, lawyers, these people had jobs in their home countries that required them to dress well. So they brought their suits to these camps.

The true story about a Syrian refugee

After staying at Darashakran well into the evening, Blend and I said goodbye. On our way back to the hotel, he took me to another camp which was meant only for wealthy Syrian refugees. The camp was filled with villas for people to live in, and there were cars. This was where Blend and his cousin’s family lived. We went to his house for shisha and tea.

I asked Blend’s cousin how he ended up in Iraq and he explained that he was from a beautiful village in eastern Syria. When the Islamic State took over the village, his family had two choices: either submit to their rules or leave. That was the only story he could tell. More like this: 5 things social media is getting wrong about the refugee crisis

chile protester

Photo: Davidlohr Bueso

I was raised in a progressive, politically-aware family, but we weren’t particularly active. When I’ve asked my mother about how her politics developed, she’s told me that they couldn’t until my sister and I were out of the house. She knew how she felt, but when we were young, it seemed like a full-time hobby for her to stay current. I’m sure many working families in this country, with or without children, feel the same way.

Still, I remember my mother’s small shows of activism throughout my childhood. When my sister and I told her that a youth group meeting had been devoted to lecturing us on the ‘evils of abortion,’ she pulled us out of it. When a man with a critical handicap attempted to cross in front of our car, my mother held up traffic so she could help him. When she noticed a family walking home every day from church in the winter, she began showing up at their home every Sunday morning to offer a ride.

That was my mom. Those were her politics, and they’ve shaped my own. Today, my mother’s activism has only become more fine-tune. She’s left a church that she grew up attending because she couldn’t bear to listen to another anti-LGBTQ or anti-choice homily. She sets money aside every year to donate to Planned Parenthood instead. She will not pass up any opportunity to engage with someone on climate change, marriage equality, reproductive justice. And on Jan. 21st, her and my father will attend the Women’s March on our state capitol of Augusta.

On that same weekend, I’ll take a bus from Mount Desert Island, Maine to Washington D.C. to attend the same march. I’ll join what is expected to be more than 200,000 other people, of all backgrounds, to prove to the incoming administration that we exist.

Like my mom, I’ve committed my short life to small actions. In college, I threw myself into feminism. I started a newspaper that still exists on campus today. I went to Student Women’s Association meetings every week. On Wednesday mornings I stood with several others in silence, holding pro-choice signs, across from a geology professor who held his own morbid and irrelevant images.

Each time I’ve participated in these small acts, I’ve come away with a feeling of accomplishment. So in preparation for the Women’s March on Washington, I reached out to the Matador community for protest stories. I wanted to see if others came away with a similar sense of power, no matter how small their action. Here’s what I’ve gathered.

Oakland, California

Photo by Miguel Gongora

Photo by Miguel Gongora

It was the end of Dec. 2009 in Oakland, California and people were getting ready for the new year. It seemed like an ordinary New Year’s Eve, until the next day when video footage of Oscar Grant’s murder was released. Oscar was shot at the Fruitvale BART station, my neighborhood at the time. A cop had shot him down, point blank on the ground. The atmosphere in Oakland turned heavy after that, people were angry all over — in the streets, in the restaurants, in the schools, everywhere.

How could you not be upset at what this video showed?

In the following days, that anger finally burst. And even though I wasn’t from Oakland, and I was not born in the U.S., I felt like I needed to join the protests with these people demanding justice. I thought it was righteous to fight for this justice. I felt that it was the right thing to do. Oscar Grant could have been me or someone I knew. For the first time in almost eight years since coming to the U.S., I was afraid. I finally understood that for people of color, encounters with police could turn fatal in a matter of seconds. I still remember what people were chanting in the streets: “The whole damn system is guilty.” It was an indictment of the entire system, not just one rogue cop.

Looking back at what happened then, I realized that I had witnessed the struggle of two very powerful forces. I had a glimpse of what could decide the fate of humanity in the future: the American people vs. the state apparatus. — Miguel Angel Gongora

Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, North Dakota

Photo by author

Photo by Matt Koller

“It feels like not too long ’til we could see Indians hanging from trees,” said our waitress, half native, half white, in a Casino 80 miles south of Standing Rock.

“Have you been at camp?” S asked.

There were seven of us traveling, each of us searching for our own reasons. S was a former veteran and a seasoned activist, itching to participate in a fight. There was a college professor, taking everything in with stunned eyes, and our driver, a no-nonsense wonder-mechanic who had organized this expedition because he was “tired of sitting around on his hands.” I was going because I thought the future of movements in America could be decided by what happened here.

“No. Some of us gotta pay bills,” she replied. “They’re doing a good thing but it’s hard on everybody. Bismarck’s the one place we can buy Christmas gifts, and they won’t sell to us now.”

In the morning we rumbled north.

We were there less than 24 hours. It was December 7th. The camps had just metabolized 2,000 veterans, the easement denial (a fragile victory), and the first true blizzard of the great plains winter. So we whirled through a whirlwind, dropped off our supplies, made spaghetti for the camp, and picked up a handful of water protectors needing to return west. And then we were back on the bus. S read a post about a hate crime in Bismarck from that morning. Like me, he had wanted to stay, but because of default-world obligations he didn’t. I knew what he was thinking: “If we couldn’t stay, why did we come?” A somber silence churned at the question.

And then, as if coming out of an otherworldly trance, our new passengers began to share their Standing Rock stories. We huddled around them at the back of the bus. “Why did we go…?” We went to listen. — Nikita Nelin

Flagstaff, Arizona

Photo by Mary Sojourner

Photo by Mary Sojourner

I first spoke out against injustice 60 years ago. A clique of kids from wealthy families ran my high school. They were always prom queen and king, and officers on the student council. None of them ever showed up for the hard work of planning and pulling together the proms or for serving on the audience. I ran for secretary of the Student Council. At the election rally, I tore up my approved speech and said to the packed auditorium, “We who do the work in this school, know who we are. If I am elected secretary, I promise all of us that we will have the power.”

Fifty years later, I fought for twelve years to stop snow-making with dirty water on the sacred mountain that rises north of Flagstaff, Arizona. Again, a few hard-working people showed up for every demo, witness, hearings and civil disobedience. I learned to have nothing but contempt for the “nice” earnest people who stopped me in the street and said, “Thank you and your friends for the work you do. I’m completely with you, but protesting is just not my thing.” At first, I’d smile and thank them. After a while, I’d say, “You know the band R.E.M.’s song, Stand in the Place Where You Live? Check this out:

Stand in the place where you live Now face north Think about direction Wonder why you haven’t before.” — Mary Sojourner

Washington D.C.

Photo by Hazel Stark

Photo by Hazel Stark

Our sign said, “Mr. President, if we are the future, why are you killing us?” Bonded by teenage friendship, excitement, and adrenaline due to our shared journey to make a statement in our nation’s capital, we took a bus full of like-minded activists from Bangor, Maine to Washington D.C to attend the September 2005 March on Washington to protest the Iraq war. When we arrived, we were quickly overwhelmed by the sheer number of people present. All shreds of excitement quickly morphed into a powerful feeling of solidarity matched with deep anger that this war had ever begun.

We marched, sang, and chanted with an estimated 300,000 people. Protests occurred all over the world on that day, showing that people, in fact, were paying attention to the effects of the US war on Iraq. But the subsequent lack of media coverage left me feeling that we, the people, were not being paid equal attention.

They say “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” When the march ended, I was left wondering how such a powerful event fit into that equation. That March on Washington did not end the war on Iraq, but it did leave at least one 16-year-old girl with the profound understanding that while a protest is an important type of cure, it is our daily preventative actions that will always be more impactful. I stopped asking, “how can we stop wars?” and began to consider, “how can we prevent them?” — Hazel Stark

New York City, New York

Photo by Meg Cale

Photo by Meg Cale

As a professional LGBT advocate, I’ve been involved in many demonstrations. The one that sticks out in my mind was during the time of Occupy Wall Street. It was one of the first marches to Union Square of New York City. The cops had started using plastic orange fencing to “kettle” the protesters — it’s a technique where they form a maze with the plastic to reduce access in and out of the encampment. The police were screaming at the demonstrators to move off the sidewalk, as I was running to get out of the way I looked behind me into the crowd and saw a black teenage girl get swept off her feet by the fence. She landed on her face and blood immediately started pouring from her nose and mouth. The cops completely ignored her and kept dragging the plastic fencing over her body as her friends screamed for help. I was 21 years old. It was the first time I realized that cops don’t protect everyone.

Another time:

I was working for a nonprofit that supported LGBT young people, also in New York City. One of our volunteers was an older man with multiple physical disabilities. We were demonstrating for marriage equality that day. The goal was to block traffic with a banner until the protesters were arrested. I was part of the team who’d act as witnesses for social media. The volunteer was there to sit in the street to block traffic with several other demonstrators. When the police showed up, they asked them to move several times before slowly starting to drag each person off the street and arrest them one by one. The volunteer was the last person left in the street. Cameras were flashing as the police approached him and gave him the opportunity to leave the road on his own. He refused and demanded to be arrested with the other activists. I will never forget the look of smug satisfaction on his face as he lay limply in the officers’ arms as they carried him to the curb and handcuffed him. — Meg Cale

Seoul, South Korea

Photo by Alexis Stratton

Photo by Alexis Stratton

As I rode the escalator out of the City Hall subway stop in Seoul, music filled my ears. But as celebratory as the music sounded, I realized that it was coming from anti-LGBTQ protesters gathered outside of the station singing songs about Jesus. More people across the street yelled with words I didn’t know but a message I could understand.

I pushed past people crying and praying and crossed lines of police in neon yellow vests to enter City Hall Plaza, where I was surrounded by rainbows and smiles and signs that said things like Love Conquers Hate. And as the audience pressed up against the stage, bouncing in time to the beat of the music, a feeling of closeness wrapped around me.

I didn’t think I would see this in South Korea — I hadn’t known this when I’d lived there ten years before when I wasn’t even out to myself. But here I was, surrounded by people who were willing to say not only “we exist” but also that we’re proud and beautiful and loved.

Thousands marched through Seoul that hot June afternoon, protesters shouting from all directions as police in riot gear jogged alongside us. But as we moved deeper into the city, the number of protesters thinned, and instead, people waved and said “Happy Pride!” and marchers belted out anthems that were blasting from floats—“We Are Family” and “I Will Survive.”

I sang along, knowing we would do so much more than survive. — Alexis Stratton

Boston, Massachusetts

It was one of those early Spring days in Boston when you find yourself stripping off a layer as you walked in the sun and putting it back on as you walked in the shade. I walked with a group of 50 or so women and a few sympathetic men from the imposing, angular gray Boston City Hall building to the gold-domed, colonial brick Massachusetts State House. We walked for the Boston Walk for Choice. Our journey was in protest to Congress’s plan to defund Title X, and therefore, Planned Parenthood.

Planned Parenthood is the only option for many poor and middle-class women to receive affordable women’s health care. I myself have been able to afford sexual healthcare because of this organization. As we marched and chanted along the historic cobblestone streets with names like Congress Street, State Street, and Court Street, the Budget Control Act of 2011 and its spending caps on federal programs loomed threateningly.

Protesters held up signs that said: “Because of Planned Parenthood, I’ve never needed an abortion”. And: “Family Planning is Fiscally Responsible”. These messages were meant to raise awareness, to combat the moral panic that anti-choicers are still trying to create. We wanted to enforce the fact that no, Planned Parenthood isn’t an abortion factory.

“They want to cut $330 million,” said organizer and speaker Liz Waters as she occupied the steps in front of the State House. “These measures are anti-women and anti-family.”

There’s a nationwide attack on women’s rights and the rights of all people to sexual and reproductive health,” said another organizer Elizabeth Gentry, who went on to condemn the national effort to restrict women’s rights to abortion, as well as the coordinated effort of the Republican Party to rile up the base for the next election.

I stood with these women, pained that we still had to fight for our rights, but ready, with fists clenched at my sides and throat raw from chanting, to keep the fight going. — Rebecca Bellan

Orlando, Florida

Even though I’m not LGBT, I’m an ally and I marched in my first pride parade this past November. I marched because I was raised in Orlando, Florida and I’m of Hispanic descent. The attack on Pulse Orlando had shaken me and I wanted to help — more than half of those killed at Pulse were Latinx. And when the Westboro Baptist protestors started disrupting the funerals of the Pulse victims, my sadness for those lost and hurt turned into action. Enter: Angel Action Wings for Orlando. These seven-foot angel wings made of PVC and white fabric have brought much comfort to our community — gay or straight — and I am proud to be a small part of their legacy.

My first Come Out With Pride experience was extraordinarily welcoming and warm. Pride 2016 fell on the 5-month anniversary of Pulse and emotions were still high. People were still clearly hurting but they were also in desperate need to just celebrate and have fun. I witnessed my adopted hometown of Orlando — its citizens, visitors, government, law enforcement, schools, sports teams, and businesses — unite in solidarity, in beautiful ways that I had never seen before June 12. If there was any sort of silver lining to this tragic story, it’s the fact that we’ve STAYED united these seven-plus months later. Our Angel Action Wings group of volunteers, locally founded by Orlando Shakespeare Theatre, marched that weekend with all of Central Florida Macy’s employees. When our group of 49 angels rounded the corner, a hush fell over the tens of thousands of loud and proud parade spectators. Many of my fellow angels formed hearts with our hands as we marched. We blew kisses to young and old. Many of us received hugs from spectators as we walked past them; a thank you for volunteering. The overwhelming hush that fell over the crowd was quickly followed by loving applause, loud cheers, verbal declarations of love and tears. I will never forget that feeling. — Jen Vargas

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

The first time I ever protested I was sixteen. I did not make signs or camp out with other protestors. I did not need to gain energy from similar actions around the country, although there were plenty. I had enough energy in my own anger and I protested alone, passing by BP stations and demanding that my friends do the same if I was in the car.

My friends in unaffected Pittsburgh mostly rolled their eyes, but they appeased me. They knew I had moved from Pensacola, Florida not too long ago. I had walked on those beaches. I became sick to my stomach seeing the oil-slick seaside on the news — and it’s this feeling that I remember years later: the feeling of powerlessness and personal hurt. I was still boycotting long after the well-publicized clean-up efforts and the real threat of fines and litigation were doing much more harm to BP than my tiny boycott ever could. I wrote a college admissions essay on the topic of the hypocrisy I felt driving a car and about how personal experience informs political philosophy (albeit, my lucidity on the former topic far exceeded my ability to argue the latter).

I’ll still make the argument, today, though. I’ve seen it again and again as I participate in more traditional protest movements. I’ve picketed and marched, once participated in a flash dance — but the roots of every form of protest seem to me to be the same individual sickness and sense of powerlessness. The beauty of an effective protest movement is that it can give our individual hurts an external reality. Only then it becomes clear we can also make real our ideals. — Alexandra Marx

Kootenays Region, British Columbia

For nearly 25 years, the locals in the Kootenays region of BC, including the First Nations community, have been fighting against the development of a massive ski resort in the Jumbo Valley. If built, this resort would scar a pristine wilderness and effectively close a natural wildlife corridor, most notable for its grizzly bear population. Even with a very vocal opposition, that has extended across Canada, the BC government approved the ski resort project.

I live in Nelson and have been to street protests, I’ve signed numerous petitions, and I’ve noticed a solidarity that has developed within our surrounding communities — a great number of vehicles in the Kootenays sport “I

 

There are so many travel urban legends out there. The belief that dressing up and being polite at check-in will get you a free upgrade to business class. The Paris restaurant where the food is so good, you’ll cry, and prices haven’t changed since the 1980s. The mysterious Thai island that no “tourists” know about.

But the biggest myth of all? The crowds of American travelers with Canadian flag patches sewn to their backpacks.

Image: Venture Vancouver

Do these travelers actually exist?

When I brought up the subject of traveling as an American during a Trump presidency, I was shocked at how many of my readers talked about Americans masquerading as Canadians with a Canadian flag patch sewn on their backpacks.

“I’m doing that before I travel next!” several of them claimed.

I have never seen an American with a Canadian flag patch. Ever.

Hell, it’s rare to see any kind of patch sewn on a backpack nowadays.

That said, I’ve heard story after story of these travelers existing. You’ve probably heard them, too. But here’s the thing — these stories almost always seem to be secondhand. A few of them have actually seen them, sure, but most people have only heard of Americans doing this and can’t recall a specific point when they saw it with their own eyes.

Because of this, I seriously doubt that most of these people who claim to have seen Americans pretending to be Canadian have actually seen them.

It’s like saying, “Oh yeah, I heard tons of people saw Mike Pence on Grindr the night of the inauguration.” If you hear it often enough, you start to believe you saw it with your own eyes.

But what hurt me was hearing how many of my American readers were eager to start pretending to be Canadian on the road. I don’t want anyone to do that, and I don’t think it does us any favors.

Traveling Under Obama vs. Traveling Under Bush

Now, granted, most of my long-term international travels have been during the Obama Administration, and generally speaking, President Obama is highly respected around the world.

But I’ve also traveled extensively during the Bush Administration, albeit mostly in Europe. I was in Italy during his reelection in 2004. And he was far less respected around the world.

(Even when I arrived in France in 2001, pre-9/11, as soon as I met my host family, they immediately wanted to talk about Bush. One of the first things the father said to me was “Il est cowboy!“)

When Bush was president, I would constantly field questions about his policies, especially around the war in Iraq.

By contrast, during the Obama years, criticism of America was far rarer. Most of it tended to focus on healthcare and gun violence. Obama was rarely criticized, and if he was, it was usually about drone strikes.

With a new era under Donald Trump, it’s going to be similar to the Bush years.

That’s the reason that lots of Americans want to be undercover Canadians. They want to escape the constant questions. They don’t want to be shamed. I get it, but that’s not the right course of action.

Why Pretending to be a Canadian a Bad Idea

Canada is a fantastic country. Gorgeous landscapes, very friendly people, delicious food, astonishing diversity. Plus, the Canadian dollar is weak and it’s a bargain to visit right now. I haven’t visited Canada in a long time, but I hope to visit at least two different regions this year. In short, if you’re Canadian, you’re very lucky.

That said, as lovely as it is, you shouldn’t lie and say you’re Canadian. Why?

Most people are happy to meet Americans. Because most people are nice, period. If you treat people with kindness, they will very likely treat you with kindness in return. And some countries, like Kosovo, welcome Americans with joyful enthusiasm!

Most people understand that governments do not always represent people. If people were judged based on the worst decisions of their governments, everybody would hate everyone.

Most people understand that Trump is deeply unpopular in America. He entered the presidency with the lowest ratings in 40 years; national and international news coverage has reflected this unpopularity. The 2016 election was a major international story. People understand that it was a contentious and close election, and that many people are not happy with Trump being president.

Canadians are everywhere. Any actual Canadian will see through your act the moment they ask, “Where are you from?” and realize you have no knowledge of Canadian geography or expressions.

Canada is also more prominent on the international stage today. Canadian politics used to rarely make international headlines, but that all changed with the election of Justin Trudeau. Suddenly Canadian political news started going viral, like the reveal of Trudeau’s remarkably diverse Cabinet. Non-Canadians may want to talk about Trudeau and if you don’t even know what party he’s from, you’re not going to look good.

If you lie to people initially, then tell the truth once you trust them, you are going to look like an idiot. They may be hurt; they may roll their eyes. They may say, “What’s the big deal?” Save yourself the grief.

Use This As an Opportunity

But most importantly, owning your Americanness is vital to creating understanding around the world. If you’re against Donald Trump, let people know why. Show people that not everyone in America thinks that Trump is good for America. (And hell, if you’re a Trump fan, do the same thing! Share your point of view.)

It’s good to plan out what you want to say ahead of time. Here’s what I plan to say:

“I didn’t vote for Trump. I campaigned and volunteered for Hillary, for Obama before her, and I’ve been a liberal my whole life. I think Trump’s policies are bad for the country and his election is an embarrassment.

“I run my own business and was only able to do so because of Obamacare. Some of my biggest worries are that Obamacare will be repealed without a replacement, leaving me and 20 million Americans without healthcare; that new Supreme Court justices will overturn Roe v. Wade and women won’t have access to safe and legal abortions; that more black Americans will be murdered by the police; that my friends’ children with autism will lose the right to be educated in public schools; that the threat of climate change will worsen and be ignored; and that Trump’s pettiness and fixation on revenge will anger the wrong leader and get us into another war.

“But my biggest worry is how often Trump and his team lie, even about things that can be disproved instantly, and how his supporters will believe the lies because everything they disagree with is ‘fake news.’ I don’t know how to fight this.

“I’m not the only person who feels this way — 3.7 million people marched against Trump in the US alone. 1 out of every 100 Americans protested — that is insane. There were protests on seven continents. Yes, including Antarctica!

“Personally, I don’t think Trump will make it through four years. I think he going to get overwhelmed and go back to New York, letting Pence do all the work while he retains the title of President. And nobody in Congress will do a thing about it.”

That’s my story. Feel free to use any part of it you’d like — but put your own spin on it.

How to Talk to People

When Bush was president, the question I would get the most while traveling was, “Why? Why would anyone vote for him in the first place? Why would anyone reelect him?!”

Expect to get similar questions with Trump. Here are some talking points if you need them:

Why did Trump win?

Lots of Americans felt like they weren’t being heard in Washington and that their lives weren’t getting better, and the best way to enact change was to elect an outsider. Many of these people were white working class voters in regions like the Rust Belt (Wisconsin-Michigan-Ohio-Pennsylvania) where automation has killed the manufacturing industry and lots of people are unemployed or underemployed. Trump spoke directly to these voters throughout his campaign.

Trump also ran a campaign with racially charged rhetoric. Many people found it refreshing that a candidate made it okay to be “not politically correct” anymore. The KKK endorsed him and celebrated his election.

There are other reasons. Some Republicans will vote for any Republican, no matter how vile. Republicans also tend to have more single-issue voters than Democrats. These voters will always support the anti-choice or pro-gun candidate, both of which Trump was.

Then there were many people who didn’t like Hillary. Many people painted her and Trump as equally bad options. Many supporters of Bernie Sanders thought that he should have been the Democratic candidate and they chose to vote third party or not at all.

And then there was the murkiness of the election — Russia’s interference, as well as FBI Director James Comey releasing damaging but ultimately meaningless information about Clinton shortly before the election.

Believe me, that’s just the tip of the iceberg as to why Trump won. Political scientists will be engrossed in the 2016 election for generations.

But why didn’t people like Obama?

Lots of people are racist. Far more than would admit to it. This is why Obama had to be the perfect candidate with a perfect family. Ta-Nehisi Coates said it best: “To be president, [Obama] had to be scholarly, intelligent, president of the Harvard Law Review, the product of some of our greatest educational institutions, capable of talking to two different worlds…Donald Trump had to be rich and white.”

Racist people want to destroy every one of Obama’s accomplishments. They even love aspects of Obamacare, like allowing people with pre-existing conditions to get health insurance; they just don’t like that Obama created it. As Van Jones said on election night, “This was a whitelash.”

Some people’s health insurance became more expensive when Obamacare went into effect. Obamacare gave 20 million people health insurance and reduced costs for most people, but it wasn’t perfect for everyone, and people whose costs went up were angry.

While much of the country recovered significantly from the 2008 recession when Obama took office, urban areas tended to bounce back more strongly than rural areas and many people in rural areas thought their lives were the same or worse since 2008.

But why didn’t Hillary win if she got nearly 3 million more votes?

The Electoral College awards votes per state based on population, and rural states get slightly more votes. It was originally created to give slave states more votes without letting the slaves vote themselves; it was also created to prevent a demagogue from taking office just in case the people elected a madman (that worked out terrifically). The Electoral College usually lines up with the popular vote, but sometimes it doesn’t. Bush lost the popular vote but won the Electoral College in 2000.

Hillary won by a huge margin in solidly blue states like California, where a win was predetermined; Trump won by a very slim margin in swing states like Michigan, where a win was vital.

The Electoral College is outdated and needs to go. But with a Republican-controlled government, the chances of that happening anytime soon are slim.

The One Exception

The only time that I would recommend lying about being American is if doing so would keep you safe in an otherwise dangerous situation. There may be a time when it’s best to lie low and hide your nationality until you’re in a safer position.

Just remember:

Not wanting to talk about Donald Trump again is not a dangerous situation.

Thinking that someone might make fun of you is not a dangerous situation.

But if you somehow get swept into an anti-American demonstration on the street, yes, that’s when it’s time to lie and say you’re Canadian. But you’re unlikely to fall into a situation like that unless you go looking for it. And it’s best to get yourself the fuck away rather than spend time chatting.

And One Last Caveat…

If anything, Trump has shown us that he will act recklessly at best, vindictively at worst. He’s repeatedly shown a disdain for facts, an obsession with those who have wronged him, and that he cares more about Putin than the majority of Americans who did not vote for him.

So it’s very likely that something bad could happen under a president like this. War. And worse. Things so bad I don’t even want to type them.

If that happens, all bets are off. Save yourselves.

The photos in this post were taken during the Women’s March in New York City, where I was among 400,000 women and allies warning the new administration not to cut off our rights. Thank you to everyone who marched. Remember to be politically active, hold your representatives accountable, and take concentrated actions every week — we’re going to need all the momentum we can get.

Americans, would you ever pretend to be Canadian? Or do you think it’s a bad idea? What’s going to happen over the next four years? Share away!

Photo by Lorie Shaull

The problem

This past Friday, Jan. 27th, President Trump signed an executive order banning all people from IranIraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the United States for at least 90 days — even if they had a visa, a Green Card or were actually in the air, returning home to the States as the order was signed. The order also bans all refugees from entering the U.S. for at least 120 days and bans all Syrian refugees indefinitely. Even permanent legal residents of the United States were detained at airports over the weekend, some for more than 30 hours.

This is the “Muslim Ban” Donald Trump ran his campaign on — bundled up in a neat package that is supposed to make us feel safer. Even though, according to a recent report by the Cato Institute, not one single foreign national from any of the above-listed countries killed any American on U.S. soil between the years of 1975 and 2015. Trump is claiming that this ban is only temporary, they’re just working on tightening up the U.S. immigration vetting procedures. In reality, our vetting procedures are some of the strongest in the world and they do not need to be tightened up.

The good news is that the American Civil Liberties Union is on it, they’ve filed a class action lawsuit. And a federal judge successfully blocked part of the order — temporarily — ruling that any traveler with a valid visa who has successfully landed in the U.S., shouldn’t be sent home or be detained at an airport for hours on end just because nobody knows what to do with them. (As of Sunday evening, though, four people were still detained at JFK airport.) In addition to all that, protests and rallies broke out across the country. JFK and LAX airports were among those filled with allies holding pro-Immigrant signs, standing in solidarity with the people who have been detained or turned away, purely because of their nationality and/or religion.

A photo posted by @chivexp on Jan 29, 2017 at 6:55pm PST

Here’s what you can do.

Show up to your nearest airport. Or join a rally or protest near you.

Many protests occurred over the weekend. Think Progress published a schedule for many of them here. To keep up-to-date with others that may be occurring in your community, follow your local ACLU branch.

Remember that you don’t need to attend a scheduled rally or march to protest Trump’s Muslim Ban. All you need to do is show up with some friends and family at the arrivals section of your nearest airport to stand in solidarity with those being discriminated against.

Call your senators and congress people.

Call 202-225-3121 in D.C. and tell the operator who you’d like to be connected to. If you’re unsure of how your representatives have reacted to the Muslim Ban, look into it. Vanity Fair has a round-up of Republican reactions here. Many Republicans have already come out opposing the ban, others (like my own Maine Congressman Bruce Poliquin) have claimed they just aren’t going to vote on it.

All you have to say is:

I do not support President Trump’s Muslim Ban. It is unconstitutional, un-American, and I expect you to take an immediate stand against it.

But if you want to add some points of your own, here are some other things you can say.

If your representative supports or has remained silent on the ban: Why are you agreeing with [or remaining silent on] the same measure that KKK Grand Wizard David Duke is currently praising?

Cite the Cato Institute reportTrump’s Muslim ban prohibits people from seven different Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. The Cato Institute looked into all of those countries, and between the years of 1975 and 2015, not one foreign national from either killed an American on U.S. soil. Why are these countries being targeted? 

It’s been proven that when a city or town accepts refugees, the local economy receives a boost. I am looking forward to welcoming refugees from other cultures into my community. Why has President Trump banned Syrian refugees indefinitely? 

Ask your representative to give you one reason why this Muslim Ban is not an example of discrimination based on nationality and religion. 

If you have a friend or family member who identifies as Muslim, tell your representative about them. Share a memory or story that illustrates how important this person is to you. Maybe that person has experienced some form of hate speech or discrimination. If you have their permission, share their story.

That’s all you have to do. Time estimate: less than 5 minutes.

If you completed this action, or have other thoughts, leave your comments below. Matador Network is committed to providing you with easy ways to speak out against the issues that impact us all. If you have an Action Alert suggestion from your community, state, or country, contact Emma at emma@matadornetwork.com.

More like this: Action alert: support a woman's right to choice

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THIS PAST FRIDAY, Jan. 27th, President Trump signed an executive order banning all people from IranIraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the United States for at least 90 days — even if they had a visa, a Green Card or were actually in the air, returning home to the States as the order was signed. The order also bans all refugees from entering the U.S. for at least 120 days and bans all Syrian refugees indefinitely. Even permanent legal residents of the United States were detained at airports over the weekend, some for more than 30 hours.

Click here to know what steps to take against Trump’s Muslim ban.

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SIMONE, a 71-year-old living in a tiny French village, plays hosts to refugees every weekend. Together, they re-create a sense of family that both Simone and the refugees living in nearby towns crave. There is no fear and no judgement in the way they interact with each other, instead there is a whole lot of respect, generosity, and love.

“I have two mothers”, says Abbas, an Iraqi refugee who spends his weekends with Simone, “one in Iraq and one in France”. More like this: Despite Trump, here's how you can help Syrian refugees

I'm a humanitarian and entrepreneur. Here are a few stories about the immigrants who've changed my life

Photo: Nitish Meena

In December 2013, I moved to Utah to start a venture that worked with refugees who showed an enthusiasm for entrepreneurship. I helped ambitious newcomers from Somalia, IranIraq and Yemen start small businesses. It was a powerful experience to help ease their transition out of poverty, and little did I know, but it would later change the principles by which I lived.

Along that journey, I forged strong relationships with many of these individuals, and I learned powerful lessons of acceptance, trust, and honesty. I remember helping a woman from Somalia named Ayan. She was starting a childcare business.

Every time I would go to her house she would greet me with “peace be upon you,” and serve me tea. I remember her telling me that she viewed me as her brother. I had only known her for two months. It spoke to her gratitude. She had a genuine interest in creating relationships with her new neighbors.

This desire permeated the Somali community of Utah. It wasn’t what I expected. My assumptions were wrong. This family treated me better than most of the Americans I know. It has made me realize the important role refugees play in bringing acceptance into our community.

Then there was Omar from Mosul, Iraq. Omar was forcibly displaced from his home when ISIS overran his village. He almost didn’t make it out alive. Omar was captured by ISIS and tortured for days. Luckily a US Special Forces team raided the village in which Omar was being held captive. He is life was saved and he had the opportunity to resettle in the United States.

Omar immediately started adding value to the entrepreneurship community in Utah. Still to this day, he invites me over for food and introduces me to the best Iraqi restaurants in town. Omar was grateful that I was able to help him acquire capital for his business. He expressed his gratitude by gifting me Iraqi sweets.

Omar made me feel home by always inviting me to social events and being there for me when I needed help. Who would have thought that a refugee from Iraq would make such a lasting impact on my life? I didn’t, but it happened. I am more open because of Omar. I am more comfortable with being vulnerable because of Omar. Omar changed my life and made me realize that boundaries only exist because we create them. He made me realize that I don’t need boundaries as I pursue relationships and goals in life.

And then there is me. Back in 2015 I took a leap of faith and decided to launch a humanitarian operation in Kathmandu, Nepal. A month after arriving, the 7.9 earthquake unfolded in front of my eyes. With my home damaged, I was forced to live out of a tent for weeks. I saw 3.3 million people become homeless overnight.

Never in my life have I felt and seen so much vulnerability. I was the outsider now. Yet I was embraced as a neighbor by hundreds of Nepalis who didn’t view country of origin as a prerequisite for receiving help. I was offered food, water, and shelter when I lacked it. Free motorcycle rides were given to me amid the supply crisis. I was provided hope amid hopeless circumstances. It was acceptance which made that possible.

I'm a humanitarian and entrepreneur. Here are a few stories about the immigrants who've changed my life

In Nepal at the time of the devastating 2015 earthquake. Photo by author.

The world needs to embrace openness. The world needs more people who aren’t afraid of being trusting and vulnerable. The world needs more people like Ayan from Somalia and Omar from Iraq. There is no greater time to embrace a “we are one” mentality. There is no greater time than now. More like this: What happens when a millennial becomes a refugee

America is my home. When I chose to become a U.S. citizen 20 years ago, I swore to protect it from enemies, foreign and domestic, and I take this oath very seriously. If refugees posed a credible threat, would I vehemently oppose their entry into the U.S.? Absolutely. But there is no evidence suggesting that refugees are, or will be, a threat to America. These refugees are escaping terror, and the robust vetting process protecting our borders ensures that this is the case. Yet many of my fellow Americans support a Muslim ban.

I am a refugee from one of these banned countries. This is my story.

***

I was a rebellious teen. What set me apart from millions of other rebellious teenagers around the world was that my acts of rebellion could have gotten me executed.

I had all but forgotten what freedom was like, even though deep in my belly I knew this wasn’t right.

That’s because I was a 13-year-old in post-revolution Iran, where the laws deemed any sort of opposition as an act of treason. And not any kind of treason. It was treason against God and therefore punishable by death. Acts of treason included, but were not limited to: playing chess or cards, listening to unapproved music, fraternizing with a person of the opposite sex to whom you were not related, women displaying unapproved body parts such as hair, possessing contraband literature, and expressing any negative opinions about any of the above.

I was guilty of a number of these infractions, but most were committed in the privacy of my home, which was only raided once. I had lived under these laws since I was 6, and I had all but forgotten what freedom was like, even though deep in my belly I knew this wasn’t right.

My resistance began when I was 7, founded on a fierce belief in equal rights. The new law had me cover my hair, while boys could dress as they pleased. I defied this law by pretending to be a boy from time to time — until people began recognizing me in public, and I had to stop.

So I engaged in secret deeds of defiance that would have given my parents a heart attack if they were privy to them. While every morning at school, I was forced to chant “Death to America,” in the darkness of the night I snuck out and wrote these words on my neighbors’ walls: “Death to Khomeini. Death to the Dictator.” The messages stood in stark contrast to the pro-regime graffiti that covered walls at the time. I would write on every clean space I could find; when the owners of the houses would paint over the blasphemous writing, I would rewrite the same messages the following night.

Soon after the revolution, my sister’s classmate was arrested and executed without trial, which was not uncommon. She was 16. At the time, half of my sister’s classmates were in prison for normal activities like possessing anti-revolutionary literature and expressing defiant views, now a crime under the new rule of law. Sometime later, my dad ran into the slain girl’s father and asked why she was executed. The man had shaken his head; “they never told us.”

Clearly capital punishment wasn’t a deterrent, as I continued my illicit activities while my parents were sleeping. Perhaps I was depressed over an unending war that had my people in a perpetual state of mourning. Or I just could no longer carry the mountain of everyday restrictions on my shoulders. Death was one answer. The other was to escape the nightmare of Iran and flee to America. But that was as lofty a prospect as winning the lottery.

***

I knew my history. I knew that once upon a time we had a fledgling yet thriving democracy in Iran. Iranian oil was nationalized, and my mother recalls purchasing oil stocks as a teenager. But the British, with the help of the CIA, deposed our democratic leader, so they could continue enjoying access to our cheap oil. The ramifications of this coup d’état led to the mistrust of the U.S.-backed Shah and eventually prompted the Iranian revolution. Even so, I couldn’t find too much fault with a country that produced Michael Jackson and Madonna.

More than anything, I wanted to move to America.

When I was 14, my mother wrote a poem about India’s Independence Day, and when the Indian ambassador took a liking to it, we got a visa to go to India. From there, I was eventually able to obtain a U.S. visa. I landed in Las Cruces, New Mexico with my parents, who then left to return home to Iran to be with my sister. Being completely out of my element in America was like a twisted anthropological experiment.

I was thrilled to be in America, but every time I thought of Iran, a deep saudade brought tears to my eyes. Eventually, I settled in to my home — and all the daily restrictions I was so accustomed to gradually disappeared. Trauma has a way of taking one’s voice away. It took a long while to get used to the freedom of speech. I found myself astounded that people could openly criticize the President without retribution. The Constitution protected my rights, and most people I knew respected the law rather than feared it. My new home certainly wasn’t free of problems, but I continually saw how people stood up for the oppressed and tried to make laws more just. It was hard not to fall in love with America.

***

When anti-Muslim and anti-refugee sentiments began spreading last year, I became concerned. Then a parent at the pick-up area of my son’s multi-cultural elementary school exclaimed, “When Trump becomes President, all you immigrants will be deported!” Something broke loose inside me. This was my home, and the only home my child has known, yet I was viewed as the “other.”

It was hard not to fall in love with America.

This time, I had my voice. I began speaking out. Through this activism I met a woman from the Kurdistan region of Iraq. It turns out that we spent our childhood growing up on opposite sides of the Iran-Iraq war. As we got to know one another, we realized that our experiences from that time bore striking similarities.

I remember being 7 years old, doing homework in the darkness of our basement as the earth shook from Iraqi bombs. She recalls being 14 in another basement fearing that she might die by an incoming Iranian missile. This war lasted eight years and claimed more than a million lives. We both recall the brutal loss of our family and friends.

Like the last scene of The Usual Suspects where the detective is putting together the clues, I connected the dots: My family members who had been drafted by the Iranian army were quite possibly responsible for the death of my new friend’s family — and vice versa. The U.S. was selling weapons to both Iran and Iraq during that war. In 1988, Saddam turned his chemical weapons against his own people in Kurdistan. He was supported militarily and politically by the U.S. and other Western countries. In 2003, Iraq was invaded by the US. Now, along with more than a million fellow Iranians and Iraqis, my Iraqi friend and I live in America.

To add irony to the present predicament, my Iraqi friend first took refuge in Syria before migrating to the U.S. Now she is helping Syrian refugees settle in the U.S. Both of our families and those of the Syrians are now subject to the Muslim ban.

***

I call America home. I take my oath to protect it seriously. And while the fate of refugees hangs in the balance of a fierce legal battle, I am compelled to reflect on my past. In Iran, it took only a matter of months to cut women’s rights in half, jail journalists, target people of a certain religion, become involved in a deadly war, and label dissidents as terrorists. The Iranian government cited security to trump freedom and rights, and its supporters followed along without questioning the new laws.

Under those new laws, for participating in even the most minor of infractions, I most likely would have died or been imprisoned if America hadn’t welcomed me. Girls were imprisoned, raped, and killed for showing hair or talking to a boy; boys were killed for possessing anti-revolutionary pamphlets or hashish.

***

In the early days post-revolution, we knew something was wrong when numerous fatwas were issued to brutalize us and do away with our civil rights. But consider what a fatwa is: It’s an executive order, unhindered by checks and balances, issued by a supreme leader. Our American democratic ideals and rights guaranteed by the Constitution are being undermined right now.

There are enemies I must protect America from. And they’re not the refugees.

This story originally appeared on The Establishment and is republished here with permission.

More like this: This was my experience visiting a Syrian refugee camp in Iraq

It’s not an exaggeration to say that my life was likely saved by a poem.

During the Iran-Iraq war, when Iran was an unofficial “banned nation,” an unspoken agreement among countries of the world slammed the door in the face of Iranian refugees. My mother, along with her visa request to India, wrote a poem about India’s Independence Day. The Indian ambassador took a liking to the poem and granted us a visa to India, where we could secure a meeting with the American embassy.

This is how America became my home.

It was not the first time poetry played a role of deep significance in my life. I come from a culture in which Persian poetry is as much a part of a person as her very heartbeat. In Iran, we use poetry not just at weddings, but in conversations and in welcoming sorrow and despair. Children begin studying poetry in first grade and continue until the end of high school. You hear poetry in conversations in remote villages, as well as at bustling modern offices. In the popular competition moshaereh, one uses the last letter of the selected rhymed verse to begin the next verse.

***

During the terror-filled cacophonous moments of the Iran-Iraq war, we saw poetry as a window to a world filled with beauty and justice.

In the wartime blackouts, when the threat of scud missiles filled the air, we would descend to our basement. We’d take with us a shovel, in case our house was struck by the lottery of destruction and we needed to dig ourselves out of the rubble, and a transistor radio, to alert us when the air raids were over. And we lit candles — not only so I could do homework, but in order to set the proper mood for the poetry contest that glued us to the radio. While trying to come up with the second verse for a poem line announced by the radio host, our fear of death gave way to excitement and our world became not only sane, but fun.

Poems run in my blood and have been with me in the most crucial moments of my life. And now, as the U.S. ramps up its aggression against Iran, I have no choice but to examine my love for both countries through the multi-faceted kaleidoscope of Persian poetry.

Our current administration has made war with Iran seem like a real possibility. In addition to putting Iran on its Muslim ban list, Trump controversially proposed naming Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp a terrorist organization, and it’s been said that new Defense Secretary James Mattis has a “fixation on Iran.” Meanwhile, democratic Senator Alcee Hastings just introduced a bill helping Trump wage war against the country.

This hunger for battle is rooted in the idea that Iranians are, collectively, our enemy — a belief espoused, ironically, by many commenters on a recent piece I wrote about the dehumanizing Muslim ban.

Iranian director Asghar Fardhadi, who won an Oscar for his film The Salesman, emphasized the dangers of this line of thinking in his acceptance speech read by Iranian-American astronaut Anousheh Ansari on Sunday. Declaring that he did not attend the ceremony because of the Muslim ban, he pointed out that:

dividing the world into the ‘us’ and ‘our enemies’ categories creates fear, a deceitful justification for aggression and war. These wars prevent democracy and human rights in countries which have themselves been victims of aggression.

As hatred, fear, the threat of war escalate, I turn — as I did those days in the basement, missiles overhead — to Persian poetry.

Do not fixate on a fault, less your eyes of wisdom become closed to goodness — Saadi

Certainly, Iran has its problems. I long for a day where the people of Iran can openly criticize their government and women are free to dress as they wish. But Iran is also full of surprises, and Iranians have many gifts to share with the rest of the world.

More than 60% of Iranians are under 30, and largely as a result of this creative and youthful energy, the arts are flourishing and entrepreneurs are emerging. Imagine being a filmmaker and not being allowed to show romance, politics, and anything that the government sees as too controversial. And yet, year after year, Iranian movies end up at prestigious international film festivals and lauded at award ceremonies (the Oscar just won by Farhadi was his second).

We must also challenge the myth of the bridled, uneducated Iranian woman. Despite oppressive laws, women recently outnumbered men two to one in universities, prompting the government to install a quota so men could catch up. Even so, women’s numbers are still higher than men at universities. Iran even produced a female Nobel peace laureate, the human rights lawyer and activist, Shirin Ebadi.

***

As for Iran being a ISIS-allied hostile force?

Actually, ISIS hates Iranians. The majority of Iranians are Shiite, and ISIS has been killing the Shiites as part of their holy war. The Iranian government has also been actively fighting ISIS.

***

“If you don’t like what you see in the mirror, break yourself, not the mirror” — Nezami

I’m reminded of this poem verse when I think of those who beat war drums by painting a nation of 80 million people simply as an extended terrorist organization. First let me remind you that there have been zero attacks committed by Iranians in the U.S. Secondly, if we peer into the same mirror we hold up for Iran, we can easily see how our own policies and acts of violence in the U.S. have resulted in death and terror around the world. The freshest example of this is the botched Yemeni raid that killed up to 30 civilians, including an 8-year-old U.S. citizen.

The drone attacks, which by international law are illegal, have been used for the past 15 years, claiming thousands of lives, many of which were civilian. In fact, one report shows that during one five-month period, 90% of the people killed in airstrikes were not the intended targets. To bring this closer to home, imagine if rather than working with local authorities, drones targeted the residential area where the Boston Bombers hid.

***

I oppose the use of drones as the loss of civilian lives hurts our efforts to curb terrorism. When innocent people are killed, the aims of terrorism are furthered, no matter the perpetrator.

Make no mistake, this is not just a list of faults, as I know America is much more than some of its more unfortunate policies. This is about using the mirror to look at ourselves accurately. It’s about believing that staying well-informed is, in fact, our democratic responsibility to this wonderful country. It’s about having the agency to challenge our leaders’ policies when they don’t reflect our deepest values.

Forgive the wars among seventy two nations. Unwilling to see the truth, they were led by fantasies — Hafez

Believing alternative facts has long provided the foundation for war. The Iraq war was based on several lies, resulting in over 200,000 Iraqi and over 4,000 American deaths. And while we continue to hold bake sales at our schools due to funding cuts in education, this war has cost us way over $2 trillion and helped create ISIS. Another heartbreaking and unintended consequence of this war shows up in the 22 servicemen committing suicide every day.

In the coming days, you might see plenty of alternative facts pointing to an imminent threat to American security and an urgent reason for a preemptive attack against Iran. This will certainly benefit certain sectors as well as an administration desperate to find enemies to distract from its dysfunctions. But as people of America, all we have to do is look at the real cost of war in Iraq and say no.

If you have an opinion about Iran, I encourage you to please learn about its people. If you don’t agree with the Iranian government, consider how their policies are not in keeping with the will of its 80 million inhabitants, real people just like you, except that they don’t have the freedom to question their government.

***

In America, we can fight back against a fascist government — and as part of our patriotic duty, we must. Please consider how America’s interventionist policies will impact both Iranians and Americans, and how we can behoove our leaders to make the right choices.

Instead of viewing Iranians as others to be feared, go meet actual Iranians — and then pressure your representatives to curtail presidential powers to go to war. Because, my dear fellow American, most Iranians will invite you to their home, recite a poem, and treat you to a delightful meal. And if you compliment their handmade Persian rug, they will say, “It’s yours.”

This story originally appeared on The Establishment and is republished here with permission.

More like this: I’m a refugee from a banned country — This is my American story

Iraq Classic [Laminated] (National Geographic Reference Map)

National Geographic Maps - Reference

National Geographic’s Classic style map of Iraq is one of the most detailed and comprehensive maps available of this historic country in the heart of the Fertile Crescent. With its vivid color palette and accurate shaded relief, this wall map is as attractive as it is functional. Iraq is shown in its entirety along with bordering areas of Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan and Turkey. Hundreds of place names are displayed in an easy-to-read font in addition to cartographic patterns depicting deserts, lava fields, swamps, dry salt lakes and intermittent lakes. Major infrastructure networks such as highways, roads, aqueducts, canals, oil fields and pipelines, railroads and airports are also mapped.

The map is encapsulated in heavy-duty 1.6 mil laminate which makes the paper much more durable and resistant to the swelling and shrinking caused by changes in humidity. Laminated maps can be framed without the need for glass, so the fames can be much lighter and less expensive.

Map Scale = 1:1,778,000Sheet Size = 28.25" x 24.25"

Iraq (Blastoff! Readers: Exploring Countries)

Lisa Owings

Did you know that Iraq was home to the oldest known human civilization on Earth? This area used to be known as Mesopotamia, and many different ancient peoples lived there. Readers will learn about daily life in Iraq, contemporary Iraqi culture, and the changes the country is going through today.

Middle East w/Iraq 2-sided

National Geographic Maps

2-sided map: the Middle East and Iraq (2010)

Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq

Sarah Glidden

"Sarah Glidden’s remarkable Rolling Blackouts adds a new twist to the [graphic journalism] form. Glidden accompanies a team of journalists through Syria and Iraq  and her muted watercolours record not only the lives of people in war zones but the way the media interacts with them. Highly recommended."―The Guardian

Cartoonist Sarah Glidden accompanies her two friends―reporters and founders of a journalism non-profit―as they research potential stories on the effects of the Iraq War on the Middle East and, specifically, the war’s refugees. Joining the trio is a childhood friend and former Marine whose past service in Iraq adds an unexpected and sometimes unwelcome viewpoint, both to the people they come across and perhaps even themselves.

As the crew works their way through TurkeyIraq, and Syria, Glidden observes the reporters as they ask civilians, refugees, and officials, “Who are you?” Everyone has a story to tell: the Iranian blogger, the United Nations refugee administrator, a taxi driver, the Iraqi refugee deported from the US, the Iraqis seeking refuge in Syria, and even the American Marine.

Glidden (How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less) records all that she encounters with a sympathetic and searching eye. Painted in her trademark soft, muted watercolors and written with a self-effacing humor, Rolling Blackouts cements Glidden’s place as one of today’s most original nonfiction voices.

Iraq Classic [Tubed] (National Geographic Reference Map)

National Geographic Maps - Reference

National Geographic’s Classic style map of Iraq is one of the most detailed and comprehensive maps available of this historic country in the heart of the Fertile Crescent. With its vivid color palette and accurate shaded relief, this wall map is as attractive as it is functional. Iraq is shown in its entirety along with bordering areas of Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan and Turkey. Hundreds of place names are displayed in an easy-to-read font in addition to cartographic patterns depicting deserts, lava fields, swamps, dry salt lakes and intermittent lakes. Major infrastructure networks such as highways, roads, aqueducts, canals, oil fields and pipelines, railroads and airports are also mapped.

The map is packaged in a two inch diamater clear plastic tube. The tube has a decorative label showing a thumbnail of the map with dimensions and other pertinent information.

Map Scale = 1:1,778,000Sheet Size = 28.25" x 24.25"

City Maps Baghdad Iraq

James McFee

City Maps Baghdad Iraq is an easy to use small pocket book filled with all you need for your stay in the big city. Attractions, pubs, bars, restaurants, museums, convenience stores, clothing stores, shopping centers, marketplaces, police, emergency facilities and the list goes on and on. This collection of maps is up to date with the latest developments of the city. This city map is a must if you wish to enjoy the city without internet connection.

Iraq: The ancient sites & Iraqi Kurdistan (Bradt Travel Guides)

Geoff Hann

This brand new edition of Bradt's unique guide to Iraq gives up-to-datetravel information and also informs the armchair traveler aboutthe history and exciting archaeological prospects of this ancient land with arich culture. Ancient sites such as Babylon and Ur, the stunning architectureof the country's mosques, the natural beauty and wildlife of the Marshes andbeautiful Iraqi handicrafts create a myriad of attractions to inspire even themost seasoned traveller. The authors, Geoff Hann, KarenDabrowska and Tina Townsend-Greaves, bring their considerable knowledge andunderstanding of Iraq to provide all the practical and background informationneeded to explore this country and to get the most out of your trip.Advice on cultural awareness and religious sensitivity in thecontext of Iraqi history, alongwith where to get the latest information on which parts of the country youcan still visit, make this an invaluable guide.

Iraq: The Bradt Travel Guide

Felicity Arbuthnot

Iraq today is synonymous in the minds of travelers with the past. Barely two hours from Baghdad, one can walk in the footsteps of Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon or drive past Nineveh's pre-history ochre walls, with their caverns and winged lions.

AVOID NON-ESSENTIAL TRAVEL; see also regional advisories.

The decision to travel is your responsibility. You are also responsible for your personal safety abroad. The Government of Canada takes the safety and security of Canadians abroad very seriously and provides credible and timely information in its Travel Advice. In the event of a crisis situation that requires evacuation, the Government of Canada’s policy is to provide safe transportation to the closest safe location. The Government of Canada will assist you in leaving a country or a region as a last resort, when all means of commercial or personal transportation have been exhausted. This service is provided on a cost-recovery basis. Onward travel is at your personal expense. Situations vary from one location to another, and there may be constraints on government resources that will limit the ability of the Government of Canada to provide assistance, particularly in countries or regions where the potential for violent conflict or political instability is high.

Anbar province (see Advisory)

Avoid all travel to Anbar province. Armed clashes between Iraqi security forces and militants have been taking place in the area since the beginning of 2014, with the most severe fighting concentrated to Fallujah and Ramadi. Numerous casualties have been reported and thousands of residents have fled the province.

Provinces of Nineveh, Salaheddin and Diyala (see Advisory)

Avoid all travel to the provinces of Nineveh, Salaheddin and Diyala. Sectarian violence and terrorist activity have increased since early 2013 in these provinces, including frequent improvised explosive device (IED) attacks. 

Provinces of Dahuk, Erbil and Sulaymaniyah, under the control of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)

In recent years, the areas under the control of the KRG have been less affected by violence and terrorism than other parts of Iraq. However, these areas remain vulnerable to the impacts of both regional instability and internal tensions. While significantly less frequent than in other areas of Iraq, terrorist attacks do occur in this region, including in September and December 2013 and January 2014. Exercise a heightened level of vigilance and plan your security arrangements accordingly. Political tensions between the KRG and the Iraqi government may also result in the spread of violence beyond these disputed areas, into cities such as Mossul and Kirkuk.

Avoid border areas where Turkey and Iran conduct occasional cross-border military operations against Turkish and Iranian Kurdish rebel groups.

Insurgency

The security situation remains extremely dangerous and unpredictable. Since March 2013, the number and intensity of security incidents and sectarian-related violence have increased across Iraq, and this trend is expected to continue. Popular targets include Iraqi security forces, government offices as well as large public gatherings. Potential Arab-Kurd violence is also of concern. Iraq’s internal stability is further undermined by the ongoing political situation, in which government officials compete for power along ethnic and sectarian lines.

Car bombings, vehicle ambushes, and mortar and rocket attacks occur periodically across the country, including in Baghdad and the International Zone, resulting in numerous fatalities. These attacks are coordinated and cyclical in nature with recorded incidents generally declining after a spike of violence as security is tightened and as terrorist and insurgent groups prepare for future attacks. These attacks result in many casualties for bystanders, and the risk of being in the wrong place at the wrong time therefore remains high.

Threats to foreigners

Except in the Kurdistan region, the threat to foreigners, including Canadians, is very high. Foreigners are a prime kidnapping target for criminal and terrorist groups hoping to extort money.

While increasing numbers of international business people travel throughout much of Iraq, they do so under restricted movement conditions and almost always with close security protection. Stay in secure, guarded accommodations, travel with close protection teams at all times and take all necessary security precautions if you decide to travel to Iraq. You are also strongly advised to consider employing a professional security company and to adhere to their advice for the duration of your stay and to acquire comprehensive travel and medical insurance before travelling.

Demonstrations

Demonstrations and retaliatory attacks have been occurring across Iraq since April 23, 2013, when clashes between security forces and protestors in Hajiwa left more than 50 people dead.

Deaths and injuries are typical of these incidents in Iraq. There is greater unrest in the western and northern provinces due to ongoing Sunni protests and increased militant activity. Avoid all demonstrations and large gatherings, follow the advice of local authorities and monitor local media.

Crime

Crime and corruption are rampant. Carjackings and robberies are common. The security situation deteriorates after nightfall in most areas. Violent conflicts involving organized criminal elements, street gangs, militant groups, rival militias and Iraqi security forces pose grave dangers.

Checkpoints

Security checkpoints have proliferated in Baghdad and in other parts of Iraq. Exercise extra respect and cooperation at security checkpoints as tensions are heightened. An Iraqi police or army uniform is not a guarantee that the wearer is bona fide or operating in an official capacity. Exercise particular caution at ad hoc checkpoints, where murders, kidnappings and robberies frequently occur.

Baghdad’s International Zone

Movements in and out of Baghdad’s International Zone (IZ) are controlled by Iraqi security forces. All IZ entry control points are closed from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., with the exception of the entry control point leading to Baghdad International Airport, which closes at midnight. There is a heavy presence of Iraqi security forces throughout the IZ and vehicle check- points may be established at any time without prior notice.

Border areas

Avoid travelling to border areas. Iraqi forces are currently attempting to contain the effects of the deteriorating security situation in Syria, and Kurdish rebel groups are frequent targets of military operations into Turkey and northwest Iran. You may encounter serious problems with local authorities when unknowingly crossing porous borders.

Women’s safety

Consult our publication entitled Her Own Way: A Woman’s Safe-Travel Guide for travel safety information specifically aimed at Canadian women.

Road travel

Motorists frequently disobey traffic rules, including traffic lights, failing to yield to pedestrians at crosswalks, speeding, tailgating and not yielding the right of way. Avoid road travel at night.

Due to the country’s high liability risk, you may have difficulties obtaining car insurance.

Travel by road is not safe. Although travel at night is especially dangerous, attacks are also common during the day.

Avoid all travel by road from Amman to Baghdad in light of the heightened security threat. The road leading to Baghdad’s airport has also been the target of several attacks.

Buses run irregularly and routes are subject to frequent changes. Rundown transit vehicles are frequently involved in accidents.

Rail travel

Avoid travelling by rail in Iraq, as the railroad is old and poorly maintained.

Air travel

Consult our Transportation Safety page in order to verify if national airlines meet safety standards.

General safety information

Register with the Embassy of Canada in Amman, Jordan, plan your own security arrangements, limit your movements to areas not prone to violence, monitor local news reports and news broadcasts and remain alert to your surroundings at all times.

Curfews may be imposed throughout the country on short notice. Monitor the media in order to stay informed of changes.

Carry photo identification as well as a legally certified copy of your visa and registration at all times. Keep your passport and visa in safekeeping facilities.

Telecommunications facilities are very poor or non-existent in remote areas. The use of mobile phones is widespread in the major cities.

Health

Related Travel Health Notices
Consult a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic preferably six weeks before you travel.
Vaccines

Routine Vaccines

Be sure that your routine vaccines are up-to-date regardless of your travel destination.

Vaccines to Consider

You may be at risk for these vaccine-preventable diseases while travelling in this country. Talk to your travel health provider about which ones are right for you.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a disease of the liver spread by contaminated food or water. All those travelling to regions with a risk of hepatitis A infection should get vaccinated.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a disease of the liver spread through blood or other bodily fluids. Travellers who may be exposed (e.g., through sexual contact, medical treatment or occupational exposure) should get vaccinated.

Influenza

Seasonal influenza occurs worldwide. The flu season usually runs from November to April in the northern hemisphere, between April and October in the southern hemisphere and year round in the tropics. Influenza (flu) is caused by a virus spread from person to person when they cough or sneeze or through personal contact with unwashed hands. Get the flu shot.

Measles

Measles occurs worldwide but is a common disease in developing countries, particularly in parts of Africa and Asia. Measles is a highly contagious disease. Be sure your vaccination against measles is up-to-date regardless of the travel destination.
 

Polio

There is a risk of polio in this country. Be sure that your vaccination against polio is up-to-date.

Rabies

Rabies is a disease that attacks the central nervous system spread to humans through a bite, scratch or lick from a rabid animal. Vaccination should be considered for travellers going to areas where rabies exists and who have a high risk of exposure (i.e., close contact with animals, occupational risk, and children).

Typhoid

Typhoid is a bacterial infection spread by contaminated food or water. Risk is higher among travellers going to rural areas, visiting friends and relatives, or with weakened immune systems. Travellers visiting regions with typhoid risk, especially those exposed to places with poor sanitation should consider getting vaccinated.

Yellow Fever Vaccination

Yellow fever is a disease caused by the bite of an infected mosquito.

Travellers get vaccinated either because it is required to enter a country or because it is recommended for their protection.

* It is important to note that country entry requirements may not reflect your risk of yellow fever at your destination. It is recommended that you contact the nearest diplomatic or consular office of the destination(s) you will be visiting to verify any additional entry requirements.
Risk
  • There is no risk of yellow fever in this country.
Country Entry Requirement*
  • Proof of yellow fever vaccination is required if you are coming from a country where yellow fever occurs.
Recommendation
  • Vaccination is not recommended.
  • Discuss travel plans, activities, and destinations with a health care provider.
Food/Water

Food and Water-borne Diseases

Travellers to any destination in the world can develop travellers' diarrhea from consuming contaminated water or food.

In some areas in Western Asia, food and water can also carry diseases like cholera, hepatitis A, schistosomiasis and typhoid. Practise safe food and water precautions while travelling in Western Asia. Remember: Boil it, cook it, peel it, or leave it!

Cholera

There have been cases of cholera reported in this country in the last year. Cholera is a bacterial disease that typically causes diarrhea. In severe cases it can lead to dehydration and even death.

Most travellers are generally at low risk. Humanitarian workers and those visiting areas with limited access to safe food and water are at higher risk. Practise safe food and water precautions. Travellers at high risk should get vaccinated.

Schistosomiasis

Schistosomiasis is caused by blood flukes (tiny worms) spread to humans through contaminated water. The eggs of the worms can cause stomach illnesses like diarrhea and cramps or urinary problems. Risk is generally low for most travellers. Avoid swimming in contaminated water. There is no vaccine available for schistosomiasis.

Travellers' diarrhea
  • Travellers' diarrhea is the most common illness affecting travellers. It is spread from eating or drinking contaminated food or water.
  • Risk of developing travellers’ diarrhea increases when travelling in regions with poor sanitation. Practise safe food and water precautions.
  • The most important treatment for travellers' diarrhea is rehydration (drinking lots of fluids). Carry oral rehydration salts when travelling.

Insects

Insects and Illness

In some areas in Western Asia, certain insects carry and spread diseases like chikungunya, Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, dengue fever, leishmaniasis, malaria, Rift Valley fever, and West Nile virus.

Travellers are advised to take precautions against bites.


Malaria

Malaria

There is no risk of malaria in this country.


Animals

Animals and Illness

Travellers are cautioned to avoid contact with animals, including dogs, monkeys, snakes, rodents, birds, and bats. Certain infections found in some areas in Western Asia, like avian influenza and rabies, can be shared between humans and animals.

Avian Influenza

There have been human cases of avian influenza ("bird flu”) in this country. Avian influenza is a viral infection that can spread by contact with infected birds or surfaces and objects contaminated by their feces or other secretions.

Avoid unnecessary contact with domestic poultry and wild birds as well as surfaces contaminated with their feces or other secretions. Ensure all poultry dishes and eggs are thoroughly cooked.


Person-to-Person

Person-to-Person Infections

Crowded conditions can increase your risk of certain illnesses. Remember to wash your hands often and practice proper cough and sneeze etiquette to avoid colds, the flu and other illnesses.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV are spread through blood and bodily fluids; practise safer sex.


Medical services and facilities

Medical services and facilities

Medical facilities in Iraq are scarce and below Western standards.

Keep in Mind...

The decision to travel is the sole responsibility of the traveller. The traveller is also responsible for his or her own personal safety.

Be prepared. Do not expect medical services to be the same as in Canada. Pack a travel health kit, especially if you will be travelling away from major city centres.

You are subject to local laws. Consult our Arrest and Detention page for more information.

An international driving permit is required.

The work week is from Sunday to Thursday.

Illegal or restricted activities

Religious proselytizing is forbidden.

The use of drugs and alcohol is prohibited. Penalties for possession, use or trafficking of illegal drugs are strict. Convicted offenders can expect a long detention or even death penalties.

Do not drink alcohol outside licensed facilities. There is a zero tolerance policy regarding drinking and driving.

Dual citizenship

Dual citizenship is not legally recognized, which may limit the ability of Canadian officials to provide consular services. You should travel using your Canadian passport and present yourself as Canadian to foreign authorities at all times. Consult our publication entitled Dual Citizenship: What You Need to Know for more information.

Custody

According to Iraqi law, the child of a male Iraqi national is considered an Iraqi national. Even if the name of the child is written in the mother’s foreign passport, Iraqi authorities may consider the child an Iraqi national and the child will require the father’s permission to travel.

Religion

Islamic practices and beliefs form the basis of the country’s customs, laws and regulations. Dress conservatively, behave discreetly, and respect religious and social traditions to avoid offending local sensitivities.

Money

The currency is the Iraqi dinar (IQD). The economy is primarily cash-based. U.S. dollars are accepted. Credit cards and traveller’s cheques are not accepted. There are very few automated banking machines.

Climate

Iraq is subject to sandstorms and dust storms as well as flooding caused by heavy rains.

The weather is very dry and hot from May to October.